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Long and short stitch icon
Long and short stitch

  • Long and short satin stitch
  • Shading stitch
  • Silk shading
  • Natural shading
  • Tapestry shading
  • Embroidery stitch
  • Plumage stitch
  • Feather stitch
  • Opus plumarium
  • Cushion stitch
Long and short stitch main image

​A series of long, medium and shorter straight stitches densely combined to fill and smoothly cover an area of fabric, and by using different coloured threads enables blending, shading and realism.

The variety of names by which Long and short is known gives an indication of how widely used the stitch has been: plumage, feather and opus plumarium all refer to the fact the stitch resembles feathers; silk shading and shading stitch both highlight the fact it’s commonly used for shading.

Long and short stitch has been part of both Asian and western European traditions for centuries: it is part of the sashi-nui style of Japanese embroidery from Kyoto; it was frequently used in opus Teutonicum, a German whitework technique; and in China it was an integral stitch in Gu embroidery (based on ink brush paintings).  Individual surviving embroideries suggest that it’s use was probably even more widespread: the Museum für Angewandte Kunst in Vienna holds a 13th century chasuble and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London holds a 14th century cope from Germany.

Jacobean crewelwork frequently depicted animals and large branches and leaves using Long and short stitch.  The 19th century Arts and Crafts revival of historic embroidery techniques led to an resurgence of long and short stitch as it lends itself to subtle colour gradation.

Long and short stitch is generously sponsored by Mrs B. T. Dier

Long and short stitch is generously sponsored by Bonnie Klein


There are two ways of working long and short stitch: natural shading (where the stitch direction follows the lines of the design) and tapestry shading (where the stitches are all parallel to each other, normally vertical).  This method shows natural shading.

Stitch order: when stitching a design with multiple overlapping sections (such as a flower with several petals), stitch the elements at the back first, followed by those which are slightly further forward, and so on.  This means that the elements which are closest to the viewer are stitched last and so will look closer.


Work a split stitch outline.


Draw on guide lines to show the angles of your stitches.


Bring the needle up in the centre of the design about 1cm from the edge, then take the needle down over the split stitch edge to complete the first stitch


Work a few stitches to one side of the first stitch, taking each down over the outline. Vary the length of each stitch (this is what gives the stitch its name) which will ensure a smoother surface


Work the other side of your design in the same way, then thread another needle with a second colour. Continue working a few stitches each side by alternating the two colours


Gradually drop out the first colour and work exclusively in the second colour


To work the inside of the shape you will now work each stitch in the opposite direction.
Bring the needle up to the surface by splitting the original stitch high in its length. Envisage lengthening the first stitch a little and take the needle down at that point. If the shape happens to curve, just change the angle of your stitch slightly


To build up the second row, split and the stitches in the first row in random distances along their length. Each stitch in the second row should be of a similar length but staggered at different depths across the area to be filled.


Introduce a third colour as you reach the ends of the first row, and gradually drop out the second colour by the time you start the third row. Remember to change the direction of the stitch when covering the split stitch edges.


Complete the third row and introduce a new colour on each subsequent row, and work only up to the edge of your shape and not into any others.

Long and short stitch

Structure of stitch

Related Stitches

Identifying Long and short stitch

Natural shading changes angle with the shape to encourage flow and enhance realism

Tapestry shading is worked in the same direction with each stitch lying parallel to its neighbour


Examples of Long and short stitch

Triptych 2, RSN Collection No. 587

Triptych 2, RSN Collection No. 587